Category Archives: Creativity

Creative Play Newsletter Vol. 2:Issue 4 – Play For Your Authentic Self

I started reading a book called “Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul” by Stuart Brown, M.D., founder of the National Institute for Play, (Who knew there was such a thing?) and Christopher Vaughan.  I am completely riveted.  I’m learning about all of the benefits of play for kids to develop problem solving and social skills, and for adults in preventing brain degeneration. I’m finding the topic fascinating, but of course my main interest is in the benefits of creative play. Interestingly, it was in a chapter about kids and play where I found the phrase that stopped me in my tracks.

Brown and Vaughan write, “. . . the self that emerges through play is the core, authentic self” (emphasis in the original, pg.107).  “That’s it exactly!” I thought.  As an adult engaged in creative play, it may not be that the authentic self is emerging, but rather re-emerging, but that’s exactly how I felt as I began to play more and get back in tune with my creativity. I finally felt right again, like I was back in my own body rather than looking at myself from the outside wondering who I had become. As I got more comfortable with my authentic self (whom I had not known in a VERY long time), the most amazing things happened. I was finding inspiration on an almost daily basis and creating art that for the first time, really spoke to me. I also began feeling joy, an unexpected but incredible benefit.

5 Ways to Play Today

So far this week, I have shared with you why I started Creative Play™ in the first place and talked about some of the falsehoods around creativity (a.k.a. some of the reasons I was so slow to see the value of play). I hope that I now have you thinking, “Hmm. Maybe I should do something.” Today, I am going to suggest a couple of things that you can do to get started right now:

  1. Doodle – No matter where you are or what supplies you have on hand, doodling is something that you can do. You only need a scrap of paper and some writing implement. Take 5 minutes, turn away from your screen, and just doodle. Draw lines, draw shapes, make dots, it doesn’t matter. At the end of 5 minutes, see how you feel. A little less tense? 
  2. Color – You may have succumbed to the adult coloring book trend and have one lying around. Even if you haven’t, coloring pages are easy to find online and print (Google Free Coloring Pages). You probably also have some crayons or markers around somewhere to use. If not, the stationery aisle of your local grocery store or pharmacy will have them.
  3. Make a Flip Book – Did you make flip books as a kid? You draw something on the front page of a stack of sticky notes. On the next page, you draw the same thing, but alter it slightly. You keep doing this, making small alterations to your drawing, and as you flip through the stack of pages, the images look like they are moving. Supplies needed – just a stack of sticky notes and a pen.
  4. Find Letters – Go for a walk with your camera phone. If it’s possible to walk outside, go out. (Fresh air does wonders.) Look for what’s called “Found Letters.”  They are things or pieces of things that look like letters, but aren’t type.  For example, the J in the handle of an umbrella or an A in the supports of a sign. (Google Found Letters) Look for your initials and take pictures when you find them.
  5. Build Something – Using supplies you have on-hand, build something. Create a chain of paperclips or twist them into sculptures. Make a pencil tower. Use colored push pins to fashion a design on your bulletin board or cubicle wall. See what can be done with the change in your pocket.

And of course, #6 Sign up for 30 Days of Creative Play™. No supplies are needed to get started so you can begin today. Use coupon code Play15 for 15% off the class fee until 12/15/17.

Please feel free to share your doodles, paper clip sculptures and other creative play on the Creative Play Date Facebook page. We love to see what you create!

Creativity Falsehood #3 – “I am too old to play.”

I had been using this excuse myself for so long that I really had to step back and think about it. I’d just become so accustomed to it that it felt like truth.  When I gave it some more thought I realized that this idea is a really common message we hear, either explicitly or implicitly, as we grow up.  We live in a culture that highly values work: we don’t take our vacations; we’re afraid to be caught leaving work early; and we commonly answer the question “How are you?” with the reply, “Busy.” Play is considered something for children and part of becoming an adult is leaving those childish pursuits behind. I suspect that losing our creative confidence as we move into adulthood is part of this.

Though child’s play and adult play may take different forms and serve different purposes, it is no less important. When I started creative play, I brought some joy back into my life, my stress went down, and I also started being more playful in general, which I am sure my family appreciates.  The Help Guide lists the following benefits of play:

  • Relieve stress
  • Improve brain function
  • Stimulate the mind and boost creativity
  • Improve relationships and your connection with others
  • Keep you feeling young and energetic.

So the real truth is that you are never too old to play, but a surefire way to make yourself feel old is to have a life that is all work and no play. I’m tired of feeling old, aren’t you?

 

Creativity Falsehood #2 – “I don’t have time to play.”

Believe me, I understand this one! As I wrote on Monday, I hardly took time to play as a kid. As an adult? Forget it! I didn’t allow myself time to play until all of my work was done and my work was almost never done. Finally, however, as I have gotten older and wiser, I realized that I was making the choice to work instead of play and that I could make a different choice.

Time is a funny thing. Every day, we have the same 24 hours, but some days that doesn’t feel like it’s enough time and some days, it feels like too much. How we use our time and what we define as our priorities is in our control for the most part. What was great about finally realizing that was that it also meant that I could control whether or not I had time for play and whether or not it was a priority. Once I made my own play time a priority, it became easier to find 15 minutes for myself. And, yes, sometimes those play times were stolen moments, like the 15 minutes of coloring I did one night while my daughter was in the tub. I prefer to have my play time when it’s quiet, but that hadn’t happened on that particular day so I took what I could get and still found my time relaxing and better for my blood pressure than checking Facebook.

What I also realized was that when I said to myself “I don’t have the time to play,” what I really meant was “I don’t consider myself enough of a priority in my own life to do something for myself until everyone and everything else is taken care of first.”  That was a stunning realization for me. I knew I was not completely self-absorbed, but I also did not think that I was a self-negating door mat either. And really, though I won’t stand for anyone else making me a door mat, I had been doing it to myself for years without realizing it.  That was something I could change too.

Creativity Falsehood #1 – “I am not creative.”

Hogwash!  Pure and total hogwash! But, hogwash that I am familiar with. Had you asked me ten years ago if I was creative, I would probably have responded with a tentative “Yes?  I guess so.”  I mean, I thought I was kind of creative and I enjoyed doing creative things like scrapbooking, interior decorating, and quilting, but Art was literally my worst class in high school. My grades in Physics and Chemistry were higher and I had to call a smart friend after each chemistry experiment to ask, “What was supposed to have happened here and why?” I would adamantly have said, “I can’t draw.” So, while I enjoyed being creative, I felt that I was failing miserably in some areas that are key for creative people, like drawing.

But then, during the second phase of my creative play experiments that I described yesterday when I was the parent of a toddler, I realized that my toddler was wildly creative. She came home from day care every single day with a stack of paintings or collage art. She enjoyed mixing paint colors just to see what would happen. She painted her hands and made multiple hand print paintings because, well, why not? Watching her being fully creative, experimenting with anything and everything, without any question about her ability or whether she should try something, I realized that creativity had to be innate. We must all be born with it, I thought, because she’s way too young to have learned creativity and though I am her mother and I think she’s awesome, I also recognized that she was no different from any other kid in her class. Every parent went home with the same stack every day.

I got confirmation of the idea that creativity is innate reading Creative Confidence by Tom and David Kelley. We are all born creative, they argue, we just lose our confidence somewhere along the way to adulthood and stop believing that. As I have experimented with my own creative play, I have realized that it is a great way to get that confidence back. Sure, some of the stuff that I have created has been absolute crap, but I do have a trash can and I know how to use it. But, I have been happy with most of what I have created and I have found that doing something creative makes me feel creative.  Bit by bit, one 15 minute exercise a day, my creative confidence has come back and now if you ask me if I am creative, the answer that you are going to get is “Yes!”

Learning to Play

I recently launched an online course called 30 Days of Creative Play™ that is designed to provide a kick start to one’s creativity when it starts lagging through 30 days of 15-minute creative exploration exercises. Over the course of this week, I want to discuss how I came to creative play and some of the major falsehoods about it.

When I first started experimenting with creative play, “play” was not in my vocabulary. Play is not something that I am good at; I wasn’t even good at it as a child. I’ve been incredibly serious (my sister might say “boring”) from nearly the beginning so by the time I became an adult, there was nothing remotely like play in my life. But, when I was barely into my 30s, I became desperate for it. I was working in a soul-crushing job with a horrible commute and it was killing me. I don’t remember what caused this moment of clarity, but I realized that to make it through the job until I could find something better, I needed to do something creative. I needed to create to counteract work that I thought was pointless and I needed something that fed my soul to keep it from dying in that job. That’s when I started Creative Play™.

When I first started Creative Play™, I didn’t have any grand plans. Since I am a quilter, I decided I would try out a new technique or tool each week and blog about it. I made small pieces that could be easily accomplished in a brief period of time with no goal in mind for them other than to experiment and have fun. That creative outlet helped me survive that job, but it also gave me a chance to expand my quilting skills and add a whole range of techniques to my repertoire. Some of those techniques that I played with then have come back into my work ten years later. I also found myself suddenly much more alive than I had ever been, even while still killing myself working for a bank.

Fast forward five years and I found myself again in another soul-crushing job (How did I let that happen again??), only this time, I also had a toddler. Between full-time work and full-time parenting, I was barely keeping my head above water and any thoughts of finding creative time were just hopeless. But, as before, I realized that something needed to change or I was going to wind up in the hospital with a heart attack or something. So slowly, I started to play again. This time though, I didn’t limit myself to quilting techniques, but I started doing anything creative, from coloring in coloring books to watercolor painting. I took a few online classes in a variety of media that I had never explored before and experimented, played, and enjoyed myself. I realized that it only took me a few minutes a day of some creative activity and my blood pressure came down, I was able to breathe again, and I found the patience I needed to manage toddlers, both at home and at the office.

I eventually quit that horrible job and rather than rush right into another one (though I interviewed for it), I stepped back, spent more time creating, and realized that I was even more on fire creatively than I had been before. Ideas came easily and the art that I was creating actually looked like what I had envisioned. (That was new!) “There must be something to this,” I thought and I began to formalize the play that I had been experimenting with over a decade into the Creative Play™ program. I realized that I had actually spent a lot of time reading about creativity, learning about it through trial and error, and devising a set of exercises that could be done in 15 minutes a day. I thought that there might be others feeling like I was – frustrated, unfulfilled, adrift – and that by capturing what I had learned, I could spare others the decade of trial and error. And thus, 30 Days of Creative Play™ was born.

I’ll be addressing Creativity Falsehood #1 tomorrow. Stay tuned!

Creative Play Newsletter Vol.2: Issue 3 – The Genius House Elf

Last month, I wrote about inspiration and the awesome experience of having inspiration strike.  What I didn’t write about was how this happens because frankly, I haven’t completely wrapped my brain around it yet. The notion that inspiration can come from some source outside of me is a little too big for me to process. Thankfully, it’s a topic that Elizabeth Gilbert covers well in her book Big Magic and in a related TED talk. In Big Magic, she describes inspiration as like a wind blowing through containing ideas. If an artist or writer catches the idea and holds onto it, it’s theirs. If not, it will just keep flowing until it finds a willing body. She shared some compelling stories of inspiration landing or passing along, such as one from a poet who described poems coming to her and having to race to get pen and paper before the poem passed right through. In her TED talk, Gilbert describes inspiration as a Muse, likening it to a house elf like Dobby from Harry Potter that stays with you unless you send it away.  Though I find the notion of inspiration as a house elf a much more vivid and funny one, I have to say that I’d rather be visited by an idea-carrying wind than a house elf.

I don’t think that it’s an either/ or situation though. I think that both of these concepts describe different methods of inspiration. Inspiration coming in on a wind is just like I described inspiration striking in last month’s newsletter. The key is to catch the inspiration when it comes – to take the idea, accept that it is yours, and start planning – or to release it to find someone else to be its creator. Inspiration as a house elf, however, implies that the inspiration is always with you and that you have to call on it when you need it. Regardless of the method, the key takeway for me is that inspiration is all around and will come when you call.

Creative Play Newsletter Vol. 2: Issue 2 – When Inspiration Strikes

I never knew what that phrase “inspiration strikes” actually meant. Until recently, inspiration was really more perspiration for me. I’d decide to start a project and then I’d think through options until I planned what I wanted to do. I might start with a piece of fabric or a block design and go from there and I thought that I was “inspired” by the fabric. I have since come to realize that working on a design that grew out of something else wasn’t inspiration at all. Inspiration is a design that grows out of nothing at all, that comes flitting into one’s imagination unbidden.

Having this experience of inspiration, these moments when inspiration does truly strike has been one of the unexpected outcomes of my creativity journey and my experiments with creative play. As I have started to play more with no goal in mind, to experiment more, to try different media and generally just open myself up more to chance, I have had more and more moments of true inspiration. These moments are truly awesome, as in creating awe.

My first experience with true inspiration came over a year ago. I was merrily sewing along, minding my own business, but I was thinking of the Orlando shooting that had just happened that week. Then, in the midst of those thoughts, I thought about making a quilt and the idea for my “Victims” quilt began to form. I negotiated with the source of the inspiration for a bit like a petulant child. “Oh no,” I said. “I’m busy. I don’t want to take this on. This is a big project. This is a difficult project. No way.”  I didn’t get a response.  But, having read Big Magic by Elizabeth Gilbert, I realized that if I didn’t take up the project, the inspiration would leave me and move on to someone else so I sighed and said, “Fine. I’ll do it.” Then, I grabbed a pencil and a sheet of paper and sketched out the whole design in a few minutes.

Since that time, inspiration has struck more and more often and I have gotten better about accepting it. I now skip the step of complaining and go right to grabbing a pencil. In truth, however, the pencil is totally unnecessary. These ideas that come dropping into my mind when I least expect it are also tenacious buggers. Many times, they just stay there lodged in my brain poking at me until I get to work. The good thing is that once I do start work, these inspired projects have come together amazingly quickly with nary a broken needle. (Again, awesome.)  The best part of all of this?  The works that I have created from these strikes of inspiration have been the most powerful, most meaningful pieces that I have ever done. They come right out of my soul and when I see them finished I am truly amazed.

 

Creative Play Newsletter: Vol.2, Issue 1 – Happy Anniversary

This issue marks the one year anniversary of this newsletter. When I created my communication plan, I was going to use the issue to reflect on the past year and to try and pull together a summary. Instead, I find myself looking forward in this moment and not backward. I have decided recently to develop Creative Play™ into something more than this newsletter and I am excited to tell you about those plans.

I am developing Creative Play™ into a full program of creativity talks, courses, and workshops. I’m sending out proposals for Creative Play™ workshops at conferences, developing class plans for 6-8 week live classes and am about to test run a month-long online workshop. I believe that playing in a variety of art media is the best way to become fearlessly creative again and I’m going to be spending my time sharing that message.

One of the first things I am launching is a “30 Days of Creative Play™” online course. Each day for 30 days (plus one intro day), I will send an exercise for play. Each exercise is meant to be short – 15 to 30 minutes, and will involve a variety of different media. You’ll have an assignment so you won’t have to face a blank page but the only goal will be to play without the pressure to produce something useful. There’s no prep required; the prep work is built into the exercises so you can get started right away. Creative play is a great way to loosen up before you start your studio practice. It is a great way to kickstart your creativity if you’re feeling like you’re in a rut. Creative play is also a wonderful way to find a little joy if you’ve been feeling like something’s missing in your life, but you’re not quite sure what. Be a kid again for 15 minutes a day, every day for a month and reconnect with that joy and creativity you felt so effortlessly when you were young.

If you’re interested in participating in my free trial run of “30 Days of Creative Play™,” you’ll find an exercise each day on the Creative Play Date Facebook page starting tomorrow (July 14th). If you would like to receive each exercise in your email box, email me at julie(at)julieneu.com  and I will put you on the mailing list.

Let’s Play!

Creative Play Date Week – Day 5

We have reached the end of Creative Play Date Week. I’ve probably rambled on about it before, but you may wonder why I think play is so important. I think that as we get older (particularly appropriate that I am typing this on my birthday), the process of “growing up” causes us to take on a lot of baggage from society, parents, teachers, etc. and we get too far away from our innate state of curiosity, of questioning, of experimentation. To create art that really comes from our souls, from the core of who we are, we have to get back to curious, questioning, experimenting beings we were as kids and the way to do that is to play again like kids.

For me, I have to go pretty far back because I stopped playing before I was anywhere near the end of childhood. To make it happen, I have to schedule it and set aside the time, but once I am playing, I can rekindle that spirit of childhood and reconnect with my authentic self.  It is when I am playing that ideas for work flow out of me and I get excited about creating. It is when I am playing that I begin to create art that I know comes from deep within my soul, work that is truly and uniquely my own. It is through play that the serious work of being an artist begins.

Today, I made dots.  A friend and I have experimented with Creative Play exercises of painted dots. She made some great ones on fabric and turned them into journal covers. I loved what she did so I made some dots of my own on fabric today: